In this edition of HIT THE TONE we will be discussing how to achieve the thickest, most powerful fuzz tone on the planet – as illustrated by ultra-prolific Californian rocker Ty Segall throughout his musical career…
Is Ty Segall really that significant?
In today’s world where everything seems to be so ephemeral, few musicians –few artists, in general– seem to create a benchmark that will be remembered for decades to come. The case of this Californian is one of them. At just 31 years old, Segall is becoming one of the most prolific musicians ever, surpassing thirty studio releases in only the last 10 years (4 in the last year alone)! His job is to take a large part of the music of the last 60 years –garage, punk, psychedelia, glam, noise, folk, hard-rock, blues-, mix it and obtain a sound that, despite the obvious influences, sounds very personal. His intuition for riffs and melody and his ability to surround himself with outstanding musicians complete a more-than-perfect equation. If two albums of his discography were to be highlighted, they would be Twins (Drag City, 2012) and Slaughterhouse (In the Red, 2012).
OK, but why these records in particular?
In both albums Segall’s cleverness stands out in combining the power and forcefulness of Black Sabbath with melodies that could be composed by the brilliant Brian Wilson. We’re talking about reinterpretations of garage punk, heavy metal and West Coast pop. However, it was considered that Slaughterhouse picked up the garage punk right where Iggy Pop & The Stooges left it with Raw Power. These are undoubtedly albums full of strength, intensity, distortion, perfect riffs and unbeatable choruses.
All right! But how does he get that sound?
In addition to a ’66 Fender Mustang and a 1982 Fender Twin Reverb Silverface amp, the great secret with which Segall got the “fiercest sound of the century” was from his distortion pedals, one in particular: the Death by Audio Fuzz War. The pedal was of such importance to his sound that Segall dedicated a song to it, to show the possibilities of a pedal specially conceived to “get the thickest fuzz sound ever achieved”. Listen below to the 10-minute experimental track…
Death By Audio Fuzz War! Tell me more, please, this sounds fantastic!
We’re talking about a company whose motto is to get pedals for “the noise creators, the revolutionaries and the experimenters out there”. Quite a statement of intent, no doubt. Death By Audio has developed artefacts such as the Waveformer Destroyer (a fuzz / filter / boost with four switches) or the Robot (an 8-bit signal converter). A common denominator in all of their pedals is to take sound to the limit. And they always avoid any unnecessary features or technology: the majority of their pedals have two or three potentiometers and no more than two switches. No screens, convoluted interfaces or compatibility problems. Here’s another common idea behind Death By Audio: don’t overdo the effects, focus on your amplifier and, above all, your guitar. This is what will make you great.
With a design reminiscent of the informal aesthetics of 80’s hardcore-punk, the Fuzz War finds its greatest versatility in the tone potentiometer. In some aspects, its sound is reminiscent of the Big Muff, but always in more forceful and aggressive contexts. In its various settings, this pedal may sound like an underwater beast or the shrillest bird you can imagine. In any case, we always refer to intuitive and practical settings for those who know what they have in their hands.
Gotcha, and who else uses this pedal?
The Fuzz War is one of the capital pedals of the resurgence of the psychedelic garage rock on the American West Coast. So it’s no wonder it’s the favourite of people like John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees), Christian Bland (The Black Angels), Shana Cleveland (The Light), Nathan Williams (Wavves), Elvis Kuehn (Fidlar) or James Peetrallli (White Denim). Given its great versatility, it is not surprising that it is also used by other musical trends such as Sebastien Grainger (Death from Above), Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine), Mick Thomson (Slipknot) or Graham Lewis (Wire). This pedal is no joke!
Okay, but how do I get that sound at home?
If you want to get close to Ty Segall’s sound in Twins and Slaughterhouse and you find it difficult to get a ’66 Mustang -no one will blame you for it, seriously-, the best thing would be to opt for any Mustang, a Fender tube amplifier and one of the pedals most used by the Californian. As we have indicated previously, the artefact that supposes a before and an after in its sound is the Death by Audio Fuzz War, but it can be complemented with two others: DBA Reverberation Machine and the very economic Electro Harmonix Little Big Muff.
The great lesson that Ty Segall teaches us in these two albums (and Death By Audio in the making of the Fuzz War distortion pedal) is that you have to pay attention to the technique, of course, but what really should not be left out is the other part: the one that depends on the albums you’ve heard, your fingers, your head and your heart. So yes, if you want to sound like that, you need the Death By Audio Fuzz War, but don’t forget to listen to The Stooges, Black Sabbath and T. Rex. They’ll show you the way.